Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk Local History

Clockmakers & Quakers

George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends was the one who originated the name Quakers in 1650 after he said to judge, Gervase Bennet "Quake at the word of the Lord". Fox travelled far and wide to spread the word. He visited Dorchester in 1655 and again in 1659. By the early 18th century the Quaker registers list entries relating to the families of Norman, How, Bedloe and Nicholls in the Dorchester Meeting, as well as many others.

The Norman family of Charminster were stalwart members of the Society of Friends, being representatives to the Quarterly Meeting in Dorchester. James Norman and his brother Ralph were trustees of the Meeting House in Dorchester when it was purchased in 1712. James held a Monthly Meeting in his own house in Charminster and in his will, written 1729, proved 1747, he bequeathed it to his son James "to give lease and liberty for the people of God called Quakers to keep meetings therein as in my time". If he failed to comply with his father's wishes, full power was given to the Quarterly Meeting to give it "unto which of my children they think will keep to truth as professed by them".

Richard How of Dorchester as well as being a Quaker was a clockmaker and in 1705 he took Ralph Norman, the son of James of Charminster, as his apprentice for 7 years. Ralph was enrolled in the Company of Freemason and later moved to Poole where he married Mary Vallis in 1714 at the Poole Meeting. Mary was the widow of William Vallis jnr and the daughter of Nathaniel Priest of Alton, Hampshire. In the 1720s Ralph Norman was making high quality clocks in Poole. Doubtless, Poole's trading with Newfoundland was of help to Ralph's business and at least one clock is known to have gone there.

There were several other members of the Norman family who were also clockmakers. James Norman of Charminster was the earliest, making 30 hour longcase (Grandfather) clocks with brass dials and a single hand, during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. There was another James Norman of Charminster and Poole and his son Ralph who was apprenticed to James Norman of Poole in 1760. Some fine examples of their clocks are to be found at A Dorset Collection of Clocks, Owermoigne with the Mill House Cider Museum.

Copyright © Debby Rose

This article appeared in The Greenwood Tree, journal of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society, Vol.24 No.1 February 1999



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